Citrus plants safe for now

By Country News

Authorities in the Northern Territory have ruled out the widespread destruction of citrus plants to protect the industry, despite an eighth case of canker disease being detected.

The latest canker cases were found at Marrakai, south-east of Darwin, with more cases detected in Western Australia at Kununurra and Wyndham.

That has prompted major Queensland citrus grower Craig Pressler to call to protect the $750million industry by immediately destroying all citrus trees in restricted and control areas in WA and the NT, and for owners to be compensated.

However the current restrictions — which had left fruit to rot because it could not be sold interstate — were sufficient and there was no need to destroy plants currently, NT biosecurity and animal welfare director Sarah Corcoran said.

‘‘There has still been no detection of citrus canker on any commercial citrus-growing properties in the Northern Territory,’’ Ms Corcoran said.

However, they were tracking 3000 citrus plants sold by a Darwin nursery — where the infected plants had come from — that were moved interstate in the past 12 to 18 months.

Mr Pressler called for the destruction of the plants to try and ‘‘save the 28000ha of trees in the rest of the country that may be in the path of the outbreak of Asiatic citrus canker’’.

His property is at Emerald in Queensland, where a disastrous outbreak of canker in 2004 resulted in the deliberate destruction of millions of dollars worth of crops and half a million trees — but it worked and eradicated the disease, he said.

‘‘They (growers) want the same action taken now as in Emerald in 2004 — discard the cookie-cutter option and destroy all host plants in the NT before the disease has a chance to spread.’’

Canker is a contagious bacterial disease that affects the quality of fruits such as limes, lemons, citron, mandarins, oranges and grapefruit. The disease spreads rapidly in tropical climates by wind-blown rain.